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Yamaha V Star 650 : Middleweight Cruiser With Heavyweight Looks

The V Star 650 got its start back in 1997 for the 1998 model year and had a run right up until 2020/21 when the last of the models rolled out the factory; although I suspect we are likely to see a new generation from Yamaha Motorcycles at some point.

Not many motorcycles have such a lengthy run of success and even less remain pretty much the same throughout such a time period with few modifications over the years. 

The V Star or Dragstar as it is known in the UK, is a solid, robust, middleweight cruiser and is definitely worth us doing some exploring, let’s start with its roots. 

Yamaha V Star 650 History

Yamaha V Star 650
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In 1997 Yamaha discontinued the famous Virago XV535, which remains a favourite of many cruiser enthusiasts to date. Yamaha knew they couldn’t just let the Virago go and not replace it with another evolved version as it is such a profitable segment. 

Back in 1994 Yamaha announced the creation of Star Motorcycles which was going to cover their cruisers as a standalone brand. In some markets they were sold as Star’s and others as Yamaha’s eventually Yamaha would absorb the brand back and all cruisers became Yamaha branded again. 

However, the development of Star Motorcycles as a brand was a sign especially to the American market that Yamaha was serious about producing cruiser motorcycles that could compete with the dominating American V-twins. 

The brand was operated out of California where design, production and distribution all took place from Yamaha’s USA base. 

The Yamaha V Star 650 was one of the first Star branded motorcycles and it made way for bikes of a range of capacities that would follow from 125’s to 1300cc bikes. 

Yamaha V Star 650 Review

Taking the basis of the Virago, Yamaha set about making a slightly more powerful model that had a bit more meat to it. 

The V-twin engine of the original 535 Virago gained more bore and stroke (5mm and 4mm respectively) which meant it now had a 649cc displacement for improved performance.

Being able to state the new model as a 650 firmly planted it into the middleweight segment making it an attractive and feasible option for the US market. 

Whereas the 535 for some was considered a lightweight and not taken too seriously as a contending cruiser. 

However, it did have a 10 year production run for a reason; the Virago was and still is known as being incredibly reliable, the engine bulletproof and so this reliability element certainly carried over to the V Star despite it being slightly bigger. 

The engine kept the two-valve cylinder head design and matching compression ratio of the Virago. However, the single overhead cam on each cylinder was reshaped and the Mikuni carbs used were slightly smaller. 

The smaller carbs were intended to give a better low down pull from a stationary position but this did come at the expense of top end power in the high rpms. 

The throaty exhaust note was thanks to the two-into-two staggered dual system the V Star received. 

Overall the engine received some strengthening and styling changes but from a practical and engineering standpoint it remained unchanged from the predecessor. 

The oil pump capacity was boosted by 50% and the clutch was beefed up with seven friction plates pushing power from the engine to a 5-speed transmission. All of this running with a shaft final drive (unusual at the time for middleweight sub-700cc cruisers).

When it came to the chassis, Yamaha paid extreme attention to detail knowing that styling is one of the most important factors for people choosing a middleweight cruiser. 

The wheelbase was nice and long at 64” giving the bike an impression that it was bigger than it actually was although the wheelbase exceeded the Harley Davidson Road King of the time.

Spoilt for choice – Yamaha V Star 650 Classic and Custom

Yamaha V Star 650 Classic
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Yamaha released the V Star Classic and V Star Custom at the same time although they shared the same chassis with a few styling exceptions. 

The Classic model was the one that was in vogue, carrying a fat look about it with a chunky rear end consisting of a 15” wheel that was 3.5” wide cloaked in a fat tire. 

Metal fenders were used which gave a nice finish especially when paired with the front brushed steel fork covers that connect to a 16” spoked wheel that is 3” wide, adding to the beefy look on the front. 

The engine received a good helping of chrome on the Classic, giving it the traditional American cruiser vibe, extra lashing were also thrown on the exhaust.

The two-piece seat was thick, plush, rounded, carved to fully support the rider and the pillion seat wasn’t too bad either. 

Unlike the Classic the V Star 650 Custom was created for a more sporty approach, aimed at lone riders, it had the makings of a Bobber project from the start, including some gloss black paintwork on the bottom end of the engine. 

It had thinner bodywork than the Classic, a 19” front wheel and lower seat height of 25.6”, the rear fender was also bobbed and wide handlebars pulled back. 

What did all this equate to I hear you ask?

Well, in short a motorcycle that pulls off the line like a train, has a super light clutch lever and will pleasantly bumble along for as long as you want it too. 

But let’s go a little deeper.

Riding and Handling

The clutch is really light, if you are coming off the back of a HD or an Indian then you are going to think you are riding a sportsbike, the effort required to pull the lever and shift gears is minimal. This makes the Yamaha V Star 650 perfect for around town, traffic and commuting. 

Off the line the torque is borderline perfect, smoothly running you through 1st and 2nd gear so by the time you are ready to hit 3rd any traffic behind you is long gone. 

The only time the bike runs a little short and out of puff is highway speeds where you will be left lacking above 75mph. 

Thanks to the competent suspension, the bike handles exceptionally well in corners, you can throw the bike down until the peg touch the road and then straighten it back up and it won’t filter. This is a nice touch for a cruiser of any capacity, especially from the era. 

When it comes to the bikes comfort, it is a big bike package with a middleweight engine so you get all the comfort of extra space. It can easily be mistaken for a 1000cc motorcycle.

Not all smaller capacity bikes are suitable for those riders 6ft or above but the V Star was specifically built to accommodate riders of all sizes. 

So you have plenty of legroom, a nice stretch for the bars and a roomy seat that for a stock saddle is very comfortable.

A huge benefit of the V Star production was the fact that Yamaha raided the parts bin from their other bikes and so they could keep costs pretty low. This meant the bike was originally priced at around $6,000 which gave other bikes in the class such as the Kawasaki Vulcan 750 and the Honda Shadow 750 some serious competition. 

Most of the overall fit and finish of the model was excellent and premium quality oozed out of it which was largely down to how the parts were styled more than anything. 

The few niggles that bothered owners were the use of a few ugly bolts here and there and the rear drum brake instead of a disc. 

Overall the Yamaha V Star 650 was received exceptionally well and it really hit the goals that Yamaha had when designing the model for release. 

Specs list for original V Star 650 Classic

Engine and Transmission

  • Engine – Air-cooled, 70 degree, V-twin, SOHC, 1 intake and 1 exhaust valve per cylinder 
  • Capacity – 649cc
  • Bore x Stroke – 81 x 63 mm
  • Compression Ratio –  9.0:1
  • Starting – Electric
  • Transmission – 5-speed
  • Final Drive – Shaft
  • Max Power – 39 horsepower at 6,000rpm
  • Max Torque – 50.1Nm at 3,000rpm

Chassis and Dimensions

  • Front Suspension – 41mm stanchions, 5.51” travel
  • Rear Suspension –  damper, 3.86” travel, adjustable for preload
  • Front Brakes – Single action caliper, single disc
  • Rear Brakes – Drum 
  • Wet Weight – 244kg
  • Wheelbase – 1625mm
  • Fuel Capacity – 15.9 liters
  • Length – 2451 mm

Variants

The V Star 650 went through very few changes over the years, the main differences simply being stylistic. 

There were however, three different variant models that you could choose from:

V Star Classic

The Classic was the chrome’d out, base touring model that was the foundation for you to be able to accessorize it as you saw fit to your needs. 

Swept back wide handlebars, sweeping fenders (reminiscent of the old Indian Motorcycle fenders), lots of chrome and plush seat and passenger pad were trademarks of the Classic. 

V Star Custom

The Custom was a little bit darker, blacked out, more aggressive, with cut fenders and a slightly more slammed approach. The Custom was the perfect base for an owner to turn it into a full on Bobber.

V Star Silverado

The Silverado built on the Classic’s foundation and focused on being a more dutiful touring bike.

It came with extras to make touring more comfortable from the get go, including a windshield, saddlebags and a backrest for the passenger. 

Buying an original V Star 650

In the UK the average price for an early V Star (Dragstar) is around £3,500, whereas in the US prices average around $2,500/$3,000. This makes the V Star 650 one of the best value used cruiser motorcycles available.

There are some important things you want to look for when buying an early V Star and to keep an eye on even if it’s slightly newer:

  • Check all the chrome for flaking, pitting and rust
  • Check all metal components for rust including bolts, a sign that a motorcycle has been looked after is if the bolts are in good condition
  • Look for any damage beyond wear and tear that could suggest the bike has been dropped or in an accident
  • Run through the gears make sure everything clicks into place
  • Listen to the bike at idle for any knocks or strange noises
  • Look for any oil leaks, inspect the forks, the engine etc. 

Restoring a Yamaha V Star 650

When it comes to restoring a Yamaha V Star 650, fortunately bikes and parts are both easy to come by and cheap. 

You won’t struggle to find anything you need, even if it seems very obscure.

Motorcycle Spare Parts are a good source for those in the UK but they do ship internationally too. 

In the US West End Motorsports have a good selection.  

Is the V Star 650 a good investment?

The V Star 650 was priced extremely well upon its release, and as with all bikes from new original models have depreciated over the years. 

They are pretty stagnant price wise and do not seem to be losing any value or indeed rising in value anytime soon. 

Your best bet is to purchase a V Star 650 as a bike that you are going to ride and have a blast on instead of considering it an investment that you will make financial gains on. 

Although it is possible that the V Star may indeed be considered a classic one day, I would guess it would be an affordable classic as opposed to an appreciating icon. 

Verdict 

Overall the Yamaha V Star 650 is a lovely machine, a clever design to style it like a 1000cc plus motorcycle while being suitable for those who want less power and lighter weight to contend with. 

The Yamaha V Star 650 Silverado is my favorite, it nods to the traditional cruiser touring past and has a very premium look and feel about it at a very affordable price. 

The engines are bulletproof, fit and finish spot on and rideability is superb, so what’s not to like about this Japanese cruiser? 

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